Countries sign pact of protection
Global fund to be created to prevent destruction like that carried out by IS
France committed $30 million toward protecting cultural heritage sites during wartime on Saturday, a first step in the creation of an international fund aimed at preventing destruction like that carried out by Islamic State militants.
French President Francois Hollande announced the contribution during a conference jointly organized by France and the United Arab Emirates in Abu Dhabi. Backers of the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage conference hope to attract an initial $100 million for the fund.
In coordination with UNESCO, it aims to prevent or stop destruction of historical sites, fight trafficking of stolen artifacts and pay for the restoration of sites damaged by war.
They also seek to create a network of sites around the world where artifacts endangered by fighting or terrorism could be temporarily stored for safekeeping.
“What we have to do today, and what we have managed to do, is to ensure the future of what is precious to humanity,” Hollande told dignitaries at a hotel in the Emirati capital. “It is already late.”
IS has deliberately stolen or destroyed cultural artifacts in areas they’ve seized, including the destruction of the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, and the looting of the Mosul museum.
Just last month, Iraqi forces retook the 13th century B.C. Assyrian capital of Nimrud, south of Mosul, from the militant group. They found intricate reliefs smashed to pieces.
The conference was the centerpiece of Hollande’s two-day visit to the Emirates. He arrived on Friday, a day after surprising France by announcing he would not seek a second term as the Socialist candidate in next year’s presidential election.
France has built increasingly strong ties to the sevenstate Emirates federation over the years. Cultural outreach is a key pillar of that effort, including the establishment of a satellite campus of the renowned Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi a decade ago.
Workers are still putting the finishing touches on a much-hyped branch of the Louvre art museum, which will be the centerpiece of an ambitious cultural district on
What we have to do today ... is to ensure the future of what is precious to humanity.” Francois Hollande, French president
Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island.
The project has faced repeated delays that have pushed its opening back by years, and it has attracted criticism from human rights campaigners over the treatment of migrant workers involved in its construction. It is now expected to open sometime next year.
Hollande paid a visit to the Louvre site on Saturday morning before meeting with French expatriates based in the Emirates. He briefly addressed his decision to not seek re-election at the latter stop, saying he would continue to drive France forward “within the framework of its ideals and values” until he steps down in May.
Hollande was also meeting with French troops during his trip.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy opened France’s first military base in the Persian Gulf in the Emirati capital in 2009. The outpost includes facilities for air, naval and ground forces.
The agreement on the fund came as Swiss authorities said on Friday they had seized cultural relics looted from Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, as well as from Libya and Yemen, which were being stored in Geneva’s free ports.
The free ports provide highly secured warehouses where basically anything can be stashed tax-free with few questions asked.
The confiscated objects, from the third and fourth centuries, include a head of Aphrodite and two funereal bas-reliefs.
Most of the items reached Switzerland via Qatar and were taken by looters, Geneva’s public prosecutor said in a statement.
They were deposited at the free ports in 2009 and 2010 and the alarm was first raised in April 2013 during a customs inspection, prosecutors added. It was not immediately clear when they were seized.